Graffitied memorial to be displayed with placards from protest that saw it dumped into harbour
The statue of slave trader Edward Colston, toppled last year during anti-racism protests, is to be temporarily displayed in Bristol as residents are asked for their thoughts on what its long-term future should be.
The bronze memorial was pulled from its plinth in the city centre last June in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by US police, as demonstrators sought racial equality and a reckoning in the UK with Britain’s imperialist history and its modern-day reverberations.
After the 17th century merchant’s likeness – long a source of discontent in the city – came crashing down, activists gave speeches astride its former plinth before the statue was rolled through the streets to the harbourside and dumped into the water at Pero’s Bridge, named so in honour of enslaved Bristol resident Pero Jones.
Colston’s statue was recovered from the water days later by Bristol City Council and put into storage.
Now, nearly a year to the day after it was toppled, it is to be the centrepiece of a temporary exhibition at the M Shed museum, where visitors will also be asked to share their views on what should happen to the statue afterwards.
The graffiti daubed on the memorial as it was torn down has been preserved by conservationists at the museum. The statue will be displayed alongside demonstrators’ placards, a bicycle tyre which clung to it as it was pulled from the harbour, and a timeline of key events.
An online version of the display will be available, as will the corresponding public survey, the results of which will be shared with a commission set up to explore Bristol’s history in the wake of the statue’s toppling.
Bristol’s mayor Marvin Rees said: “June 7 2020 is undoubtedly a significant day in Bristol’s history and had a profound impact not just in our city but also across the country and around the world.
“The Colston statue: What next? display at M Shed is a temporary exhibition which aims to start a conversation about our history. The We Are Bristol History Commission will be leading that conversation with citizens over the coming months.
“The future of the statue must be decided by the people of Bristol and so I urge everyone to take the opportunity to share their views and help inform future decisions by taking part in the survey.”
Mr Rees, who set up the commission, has previously described the statue’s toppling as an “iconic moment”, albeit one that must be “firmly attached to real change, real policy change”.
Feedback from the public survey will inform the commission’s recommendation on the long-term future of the Colston statue later this year.
Responses will also be archived and made publicly accessible as a resource for researchers, schools and those who wish to learn more about Bristol’s history and the city’s links to the transatlantic slave trade and its present-day legacy.
“This is an opportunity for everyone to have your say on how we move forward together,” said the commission’s chair, Professor Tim Cole.
“The display is not a comprehensive exhibition about Colston or transatlantic slavery in Bristol, but it is intended to be a departure point for continuing conversations about our shared history.”
Fran Coles, conservation and documentation manager at M Shed, said the conservation work carried out on the statue would prepare it for “whatever its future may be”, adding that the display “will enable visitors to take stock and make their own minds up concerning the future of the statue”.
Additional reporting by PA